- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 8, 2005

On the matter of nondefense federal spending, there have been two versions of the Republican Party since it took control of Congress in January 1995. There was the pre-millennium (1995-99) party, which was relatively stingy with the public purse during Congress’ commendable effort to eliminate the federal budget deficit, which had averaged about $250 billion per year during the first half of the 1990s. Then there was the post-millennium (2000-05) Republican Party, which began spending money uncontrollably once seemingly sustainable budget surpluses appeared and long after those surpluses turned into the largest nominal deficits in history, averaging about $375 billion over the past three years.

With nominal defense spending essentially frozen between fiscal 1995 ($272 billion) and fiscal 1999 ($275 billion), nondefense federal spending increased by an average of $46 billion per year, going from $1,244 billion in 1995 to $1,427 billion in 1999. Adjusted for inflation, the average annual compound rate of increase in nondefense spending was a relatively restrained 1.3 percent. At that rate, inflation-adjusted nondefense spending would double in 54 years.

Beginning with fiscal year 2000, the appearance of evidently long-term budget surpluses precipitated a spending spree involving the Republican Congress and the Clinton White House. Remarkably, the increase in spending, including nondefense spending, exploded when George W. Bush entered office. By 2000, the long-neglected defense budget was overdue for an increase, which became particularly imperative after September 11 and even more so following the beginning of the war in Iraq in March 2003. Appropriately, defense spending steadily increased, rising from $275 billion in 1999 to $453 billion in 2005. Over the same six-year period, however, annual nondefense spending increased by an astounding $553 billion, rising from $1,427 billion in 1999 to $1,980 billion in 2005.

During the Bush II era, real nondefense spending increased at an average compound rate of 4.2 percent per year. That is more than three times as fast as real non-defense spending increased from 1995 through 1999 under Bill Clinton. In fiscal 2005 alone, nominal nondefense spending increased by $144 billion, while national defense spending increased by $37 billion.

Having presided over explosive spending growth in the nondefense budget, Mr. Bush and the White House Office of Management and Budget, as well as the Republican-controlled Congress, should know precisely where spending cuts can be implemented. The time for talk is over. The time for leadership is now, and it should come from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

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